Even though Alzheimer’s doesn’t run in my family, I still worry about getting scatterbrained in my old age. I was a ditzy blonde growing up and suspect that the ditziness will dog me throughout my golden years. To stave off the ditziness, I keep my mind busy with a wide range of creative exercises.
A new study seems to support that baby boomers and seniors with active minds like mine are less inclined to suffer from Alzheimer’s than those who are less active. Activities such as reading, writing, solving puzzles, social interactions, and doing tasks that are mentally challenging are noted to be especially effective at minimizing the build-up of beta-amyloid said to be a possible cause of Alzheimer’s. Lucky for me, I enjoy doing all these things and more. Here’s just a few examples of how I’m staying mentally fit as a baby boomer senior.
On-line skill games. In the pre-internet days, I bought a least one Dell Puzzle book a month to keep me sharp with its assortment of Word Finds, word search, crossword puzzles and more. These days, I tap into the wide collection of games found on the web, specifically word and strategy games such as Boggle or anagrams. While I could spend all day on the internet playing word games (!) I limit myself instead to four 15-minute games a day. Two of my favorite free game sites include East of the Web.com and Wordplay.net which have interactive word puzzles that can be solved in 3 minutes or less.
Gardening. Preliminary studies seem to indicate that staying active and participating in hobbies like gardening also preserves cognitive functions. Depending on the time of year and the weather, I spend between 3-6 hours every day working in my garden doing a wide range of mentally challenging tasks such as plotting out beds and irrigation systems, propagating plants from either seed or from starts, weeding, composting, and experimenting with new vegetable strains.
Reading. I never really “got” into TV and have spent most of my life reading 2-3 books a week instead of parking myself in front of a television set all day long. Good thing too. It seems that too much TV is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, says a May 6 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cooking. Cooking from scratch does more than lower your grocery bill and provide your family with wholesome and nutritious food, it also exercises the mind. I try at least one new recipe a week and do a fair amount of experimenting with ethnic foods, sourdough cooking, outdoor cooking, and home-canning to keep my cooking skills honed and my mind sharp.
Volunteerism. For years, I was the only stay-at-home mom in a dual income neighborhood and relied on volunteerism as a way to meet people and learn new skills. Now that I’m a senior, I still volunteer regularly at my church, in my neighborhood, and as a 4-H leader and continue to learn new things every time I show up for work. While it definitely takes me a little longer to pick up new skills than it did when I was 18, my ability to problem solve is keener than ever thanks to the playing games and experimenting in both the kitchen and the garden.
While there isn’t any magic cure that will prevent Alzheimer’s at this point, a busy life with lots of mentally challenging activities appears to be key in minimizing the risk of this disease. For active baby boomers like myself, that’s great news.